The state of Alabama has allocated about $127.8 million in federal COVID-19 emergency rental assistance to 31,432 households, according to the agency in charge of distributing the funds.
The state has received $221.2 million in ERA funding in two batches. In all, about 58% of the available funding has been disbursed, Caryllee Cheatham, spokeswoman for the Alabama Housing Finance Authority, told Alabama Daily News. Cheatham said money continues to be awarded.
She said via email the authority initially saw a flood of more than 50,000 applications for assistance. In all, there have been about 181,000 registrations for application. She said many of those were ineligible because they were incomplete, included false information or were duplicates.
She said the rate of processing applications has increased, but so has potential fraud, Cheatham said
“To date we have reported more than $137 million in proven or suspected fraudulent applications to the Inspector General for the U.S. Treasury,” Cheatham said. “Processing those applications requires more scrutiny and time to give applicants every opportunity to prove legitimate eligibility.”
Last fall, Democrats on the federal and state level questioned the pace at which the state was getting the assistance to people and asked it to act faster.
According to the most recent federal tally, as of May, Alabama had distributed about 47% of the first round of ERA funds it received.
Nine states had lesser percentages, including Tennessee at 40%.
In addition to funds allocated to the state, the federal government sent assistance directly to the eight of the state’s largest cities and counties for distribution locally: Birmingham and Huntsville and Baldwin, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa counties.
Cheatham said challenges for the state are two-fold: Those larger metro areas that received separate funds have a higher concentration of renters and the ERA funds were sent to states based on population.
“As a result, ERA Alabama is left to serve the state’s predominantly rural counties, with a smaller rental base and relatively lower rents,” she said. “This places downward pressure on the rate and size of disbursements.”
About 69% of Alabama housing is owner occupied, compared to 64% nationally, according to census data.
Cheatham said the agency continues to process applications.
“Though some of the local ERA programs have closed, ERA Alabama will remain in operation as long as Treasury keeps funding intact,” she said.